Thinking Out Loud

December 16, 2014

A Good Question

This published a month ago at Just a Thought, the blog of author and church planter Rick Apperson in British Columbia, Canada. I thought readers here might appreciate this; click the title below to read at source.

A Good Question

“What does that teach you about God, Daddy?”

This is the question my son has been asking lately. He likes to sing praise and worship songs. He also likes to make up new songs about God. Invariably he will end the song and ask what that song has taught me about God. It is a good question and will often cause me to think, what is the meaning of the song and what does it teach me about God? It is a great exercise.

I also realized, it is something I never used to ask. I love to sing and will belt out a song anywhere and at any time. Yes, I am that guy walking down the street singing to himself. I will sing at work, in the car and yes, in the shower. Until my son started asking his question, I never put much thought into what the song was teaching me about God. Now I can’t stop.

I have also begun applying the question to my reading as well. When I dig into God’s Word, I have asked myself, “What does this passage of Scripture teach me about God?”   According to God’s Word, the Scriptures are a light for my path (Psalm 119:105) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. (2 Timothy 3:16)

It is all that and so much more. As I read the Old Testament, I see a God who is long-suffering and filled with patience and loving kindness. Moving into the New Testament, we see a God who loved us enough to send His Son to earth, to die on a cross for you and me!

God’s love, mercy and grace are all things that I have been taught through the reading of His Word.

My son has challenged me to go deeper in worship and in reading the Bible. Hopefully you will be asking yourself this same question he asked me. “What does that teach you about God?”

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January 12, 2014

Single Story Reaches Two Diverse Audiences

I want us to think today about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. I’m assuming the story is somewhat familiar to you. If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…  (emphasis added)

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982. (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives. If you ever find yourself facing two spiritually different audiences simultaneously, teach the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.” (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200, emphasis added)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

April 8, 2012

Resurrection and Grace

The following is widely blogged:

In What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey recounts this story about C. S. Lewis:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.

The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

While I like the story, had I been present, I would have challenged the notion that other religions have verified accounts of resurrection. One of the other things that sets Christianity apart is the evidence for the resurrection; evidence which forms the themes of countless books on Christian apologetics.

But where I want to go with this today is this: If you think about it, grace and resurrection are somewhat similar ideas. The DNA present in the concept of grace is embedded in the concept of resurrection, and the DNA of resurrection is embedded in the concept of grace.

Both represent a ‘pass’ if you will.

I sin, but forgiveness is made available by the grace of God.

I die, but in expectation of being raised to eternal life just as Christ conquered death.

I avoid having to perform acts of penance or go through acts of contrition in order to recover my spiritual dignity; I simply need to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness, it is a gift from God, not involving effort or earning.

I avoid having to wonder if my remorse was sufficient, I can receive assurance from God’s Word that my transgressions are forgiven, because he is ever-faithful and ever-just.

I avoid a meaningless death, but die knowing that this is not the end; that death itself is a gateway to something greater that God has in store; something my eyes have never seen, my ears have never heard, my imagination has never conjured up.

Now, some will argue that avoiding the consequences of sin and someday experiencing the reality of victory over death is really the same thing; and I would agree. The two are linked.

But imagine — and you don’t have to — a belief system that includes both grace and resurrection.  Why would you look anywhere else?

August 20, 2011

Of Course I’m a Christian; I Keep The Ten Commandments

This is a joint post today between Thinking out Loud and Christianity 201.  Readers at C201 were introduced to a book by Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock last Friday and Saturday.   This weekend we return to the book for a look at keeping “the big ten” and ask if that’s a prerequisite for earning God’s favor, or is it the natural of fruit having already received his grace…
 
More from the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God.

March 27, 2011

Howard Jones: What is Hell Anyway?

Earlier this week, I decided to go out on a limb on Christianity 201, my devotional blog, and introduce a few readers to Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  But before I embedded Greg’s sermon on Hell — spread out over three videos — I decided to write what was probably the largest disclaimer I’ve ever done.

For that one however, I skipped the Howard Jones reference.   But if someone’s got the time, I think “What is Hell Anyway” would be a timely song parody…

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you’re well aware that a popular Christian author has caused there to be much discussion on the doctrine of hell.   Sample topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Is hell a physical reality or is it figurative language?
  • What determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
  • Is hell eternal; does it last “forever?”
  • Are there people who initially reject Christ who will somehow “accept” Him after death?
  • How is the concept of hell consistent with the loving, gracious nature of God?

…and so it goes.

Who engages in these discussions?  Again, the list includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • People who have their minds made up, and militantly defend their position and refute all other views;  some of whom view themselves as somewhat ‘contaminated’ by merely listening to other viewpoints.
  • People who simply like a good argument; people who enjoy the endorphin release that comes with lively, passionate debate, or enjoy the ‘game’ of just asking the awkward questions.
  • People who are genuinely seeking answers; people new to faith; people confused by the variants of doctrinal positions.
  • People who are relatively established in their faith, but are interested in exploring how others interpret scripture and how that affects their beliefs in other doctrinal areas.
  • People who don’t regard their views on secondary doctrinal matters as
    “set in stone” and would be open to reconsider their position of the points raised by those of different opinions were persuasive.

I think we need to ask ourselves, “Which kind of person am I?  Do I just like a good fight?  Or am I truly seeking for some answers?  Or am I simply open to hear how those with different takes reconcile other doctrinal matters?”

At that point, I introduced the videos, which you’re welcomed to watch.  T.O.L. readers can leave comments here at this post.   Link here for the sermon videos.


October 4, 2010

The Misunderstood God Revisited

I sometimes repeat posts here, and I sometimes do book reviews, but the two never mix.   I’ve never repeated a book review.   But every once in awhile there’s a book that gets lost in the shuffle, and while reviewers love to write about books that aren’t even released yet, there’s nothing wrong with mining the shelves for things others may have missed…

So partly because The Shack publishers are weighed down in a legal quagmire and not doing anything new, and partly because I think it raises other issues, let’s take a look at this title reviewed one year ago…

God Is Not Self-Seeking

God did not send his only son to die because God was so offended by sin that he needed to whack somebody in order to feel better. A “sin offering” is not made to God. A sin offering is an offering made to sin. Sin is a beast that wants to devour us. Imagine you are camping in the wilderness alone and you come upon a grizzly. The moment that bear sees you and begins running toward you, I promise you this: you had better come bearing gifts! If you have nothing to offer that beast he will devour you. The sacrifice on the cross was essentially Christ throwing himself in front of the beast on your behalf and allowing it to consume Him while you escaped. Jesus did not die on the cross to satisfy God’s moral rage at your sin. He died to save you from the beast of sin. The death he died to sin once for all.

~Darin Hufford, The Misunderstood God (Windblown Media, November 2009) pp 97-98

In a world where we often speak of “brands” in Christian publishing, it’s unusual to see a publishing imprint where many different voices seem to speaking to one central mission or sharing one common voice. Windblown Media has managed to do just that, pushing a giant “pause” button on some of our nearest and dearest views on both the Godhead; and our views on the church — us — the way we interact together as the body, as well as within our families or mariages.

As with He Loves Me, The Shack, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, Bo’s Café, and now The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford, readers are treated to a fresh perspective, one that is sure to bring about some agitation by those who would have us follow a God that is not a kindler, gentler deity.

The Misunderstood GodWhen I first flipped through the pages of The Misunderstood God, I was expecting something similar to the first half of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips. I came to that book about a dozen years ago for the first time, and was astounded by how much my own God perspective was informed more by comparisons to other authority figures than informed by scripture itself.

While some people might see books like this as a giant piece of chalk (or marker) about to write on the giant blackboard (or whiteboard) everything one needs to know in terms of their doctrine of God, I prefer to see this kind of book as a giant eraser, cleaning off all those false doctrines and wrong views we’ve collected over the years. Sometimes, such an eraser has to scrub a little bit harder to get some of those off the board so we can start fresh.

In fact, the first half of Your God Is Too Small by Phillips does just that type of deconstruction — in only about 60 pages of this rather small book — before reconstructing in the second half; but it’s the first half of the book that really packs the greatest punch.

darin huffordBut a few chapters into The Misunderstood God I finally figured out that the deconstruction and reconstruction takes place here on a chapter-by-chapter basis, using as its motif, I Corinthians 13. I’ve heard people speak before on how the “Love is patient, love is kind…” passage can, if it’s true that ‘God is love,’ be read as, “God is patient, God is kind…” I had just never seen it before as the key to healing misunderstandings we have about the nature of God.

The problem compounds for those who — in either J. B. Phillips’ generation or Darin Hufford’s generation — can’t embrace the idea of a kinder, gentler God because it would mean unsubscribing from all the lifelong beliefs they have held. Many people are predisposed to being angry because their God is angry. Actually, I heard that years ago at a music festival where a speaker suggested — in jest — the following worship lyrics:

He is Lord!
He is Lord!
He has risen from the dead
And blown his stack!

I remember everyone laughing at the absurdity of those lyrics, but really, that’s the God-picture that’s more dominant in our minds. Which is why the Windblown books, particular He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen and The Misunderstood God are so badly needed.

I do think there are some rough edges in the writing. A few sentences left me wide-eyed wondering, “Did he really mean to say that?” I thought of marking pages as I was reading, but then I figured the critics will find these soon enough.

What matters most here is that books like this are refreshing to the soul. Maybe the chalk (or the marker) is needed, but the eraser first has to get rid of everything previously written. Books like this are rare, which makes them a breath of fresh air.

God loves you. God is love. He is a loving God. Yes, he is a God of justice and yes, he has shown his judgment of sin in the past and will do so again. But the latter has been inscribed on our minds much more than the former, which needs to be said again and again, if only to be given equal time.

God loves you. God is love. He is a loving God. Just say that out loud a few times.

God loves me. God is love. He is my loving God.

For He Loves Me, here’s my review from December 16, 2008, a remix review from May 3rd.

For So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore, here’s my review from April 19, 2008.

For Bo’s Café, here’s my recent review from September 14, 2009.

he loves methe shackSo You Don't Want To GoBo's CaféThe Misunderstood God

Pictured: book cover, Darin Hufford, Windblown Media family of titles.

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